Sky Sports breaks Ofcom sponsorship rules

26 October, 2009 | By Robin Parker

Sky Sports gave undue prominence to Specsavers’ sponsorship of the Hawk-Eye technology used in its Ashes coverage, Ofcom has ruled.

The regulator threw out Sky’s argument that the technology is ‘programme-related’ material, derived outside of the programme in which it is used, and therefore open to commercial branding just as sports scoreboards and timing devices.

Ofcom instead judged that because Sky deliberately uses the technology to “enhance the viewing experience”, it is intrinsically part of the programme itself. As such, it cannot feature any branding.

Hawk-Eye is a technical system that captures information from sporting fixtures. In the Ashes coverage, this included the spread of shots around the wicket, the speed of the bowling, the spread of the bowling to the batsmen, and whether a ‘leg before wicket’ decision is likely to be correct.

In Sky Sports’ coverage, whenever the Hawk-Eye displays were on screen, a Specsavers logo was briefly displayed.

The ruling effectively means that if Sky Sports wants to keep using the technology within its coverage, it will have to put the full cost itself as part of the production budget.

Ofcom said that it could not accept Sky’s argument because it could technically open the floodgates to sponsorship of other sports production techniques such as slow-motion replays, graphics of team formations and techniques and cameras placed within sporting grounds.

It therefore upheld the complaint, ruling that it breached rule 10.3 of the Broadcasting Code, which states that products and services must not be promoted in programmes.